Rick Pluta | Michigan Radio

Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosted the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

man in white shirt and blue tie puts hand over stomach and has a holster with a gun on it on his left side
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The commission that manages the common areas of the Michigan Capitol adopted a policy Monday that bans openly carrying guns throughout much of the building, but with little hope the decision actually settled the question.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission voted 6-0 to adopt the new policy following the armed assault on the U.S. Capitol last week and people with guns swarming the state Capitol last April.

gretchen whitmer wearing mask at podium

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is strongly encouraging all K-12 schools in Michigan to reopen for some in-person instruction by March 1. The move comes as the state is set to offer the coronavirus vaccine to teachers starting next week.

Clker-Free-Vector-Images / Pixabay

Former ambassador, Ron Weiser, has emerged as the presumptive next chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

That’s after current chair Laura Cox decided not to seek another term.

Weiser is a wealthy businessman who has served in the role twice before – from 2009 to 2011 and from 2017 to 2019.

The South Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA) and Madison Heights meet in court May 17.
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The Michigan Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday on whether documents donated to a public university by an anti-immigration activist is covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

The University of Michigan is challenging a decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The court ruled all the papers donated by Dr. John Tanton are available to the public under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Hands gripping jail cell bars

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed bills into law Monday that make dramatic changes to the state’s criminal justice system.

The new laws will make it easier to clear the records of people who committed crimes as juveniles or were found guilty of low-level offenses.

The package also repeals laws that can stop people with records from being certified in many professions.

Michigan Supreme Court
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A deadlock on the state Supreme Court could allow taxpayer funds to go to religious and other non-public schools. The money would partially reimburse the schools for the costs of complying with health and safety mandates.

The court deadlocked 3-3 and one justice abstained. That left standing a lower court ruling that non-public schools can be reimbursed for some expenses. That’s despite a 1970 voter-approved amendment that says public funds cannot support non-public schools. 

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she’s looking forward to a better relationship with the White House once President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Whitmer is a frequent Trump critic and Trump famously criticized her as “that woman from Michigan.” She is a co-chair of Biden’s inauguration planning committee.

Whitmer says she expects help from the Biden administration on some critical initiatives in its first federal budget proposal.


Bills waiting for Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s signature would send fewer people to jail for minor infractions such as driving on a suspended license or a technical violation of a probation order.

The bills were recommended by a task force co-chaired by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack.

She says the current system punishes people who don’t pose a threat to public safety, and makes it less likely they’ll get their lives in order.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium

Governor Gretchen Whitmer won’t necessarily wait for January 15 to lift current COVID-19 restrictions.

That’s when a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services order expires.

Whitmer said Tuesday the restrictions could be lifted sooner than that. But she says that’s only if data show there’s no major community spread following winter holiday gatherings.

Inside the Michigan Capitol looking up at the dome.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan House approved a COVID-19 relief bill Monday that includes a pay boost for workers on the front lines of dealing with COVID-19; funding for vaccine distribution; and extending unemployment benefits. There’s also money to help small businesses that have been hurt by the continuing health crisis.

The Lansing capitol dome with a blue sky behind it and trees in front of it
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state Senate worked into Friday night to wrap up its work for the year. The major job was pulling together a $465 million COVID-19 relief bill. The bill will extend jobless benefits by an additional six weeks, and offer grants to small businesses affected by the pandemic.

Senator Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"I, for one, will admit this bill is not perfect. That being said, I believe it’s incredibly important and reflects a compromise,” said Hertel.

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA)
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Michigan’s unemployment rate ticked up by eight-tenths of a percentage point last month to 6.9%.

This is the first time since April the state has reported an increase in lost jobs.

Michigan State University Professor Charles Ballard is an expert on the state’s economy. He says the numbers show COVID-19’s effect on jobs.

Jocelyn Benson
Benson for Secretary of State

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has refused an invitation to appear before the Michigan House Oversight Committee.

In a letter to Republican committee chair Matt Hall, she said he’s been complicit in spreading disinformation about the integrity of the November election.

Hall said he was responding to an interview he heard with Benson where she expressed a willingness to appear. He says the invitation will remain open.

“I’m hoping she will come in because I think there’s no one better than the Secretary of State to have a conversation with and answer questions about how we can run this election smoother and how we can restore confidence in our state’s elections,” Hall said.

blonde woman, jennifer granholm

President-elect Joe Biden is nominating his former rival Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation and intends to choose former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as energy secretary.

A photograph of the exterior of Michigan Capitol building
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature’s Republican and Democratic leaders spoke again Tuesday about year-end priorities.

The governor and legislative sources say the call focused largely on a plan to provide relief to businesses and individuals who’ve felt the economic impact. Also, a plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

Gary Eisen

A Republican state lawmaker has lost his committee assignments for appearing to endorse violence as a possibility to block Monday's proceedings to award Michigan’s electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden.

State Representative Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair) later said he was misunderstood. This is part of what Eisen said during an interview on WPHM-AM in Port Huron.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s 16 electoral votes will be formally awarded Monday to President-elect Joe Biden in a ceremony at the state Capitol. Other U.S. states and territories also convene their Electoral Colleges on Monday.

Update: 9:00 a.m., December 14 The state House and Senate office buildings in Lansing are closed because of "safety and security concerns."

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority leader Mike Shirkey said law enforcement recommended they close offices based on "credible threats of violence."

a person holds a vaccine vial
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Michigan’s top health officials outlined plans Friday for distributing COVID-19 vaccines once they become available.

The plan includes giving first priority to frontline health care workers, emergency personnel, and people who live in nursing homes.

Though not in the first tier, childcare and K-12 school staff would also be high on the list.

a person holds a vaccine vial
Adobe Stock

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday her next round of actions to help people facing hardships due to the COVID-19 crisis. That includes a tax respite for businesses hurt by the COVID-19 restrictions and making plans for vaccines once they’re approved.

Under an executive order, entertainment venues and sit-down restaurants will be given more time to pay their December sales and payroll taxes. She says the postponed sales, use, and withholding taxes apply to recreation and entertainment venues as well as dine-in restaurants that have suffered due to pandemic restrictions. That means the businesses won’t have to pay their monthly taxes for December until January.

Michigan state Rep. Cynthia Johnson, a Black Democratic lawmaker who faced lynching threats and harassment following an Oversight Committee hearing last week where she leveled fierce criticism against President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, has been punished by House Republican leaders for a video she posted to Facebook on Tuesday. Republicans say that's because in the video she appears to threaten supporters of the president.

Johnson has been stripped of her committee assignments, including her position on the House Oversight Committee.

State Representative Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit) has been punished by House Republican leaders for a Facebook video. They say she appears to threaten supporters of President Donald Trump. 

Johnson has been stripped of her committee assignments, including her position on the House Oversight Committee.

Johnson herself faced death threats and harassment following an Oversight Committee hearing last week as she leveled fierce criticism against Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani.

empty classroom
pololia / Adobe Stock

A group of Christian high schools claims Michigan’s COVID-19 restrictions violate religious freedom rights.

The schools have filed a federal lawsuit in West Michigan to block the continuation of the restrictions.
That’s after the state Department of Health and Human Services extended its COVID restrictions through December 20.

Michigan Executive Office of the Governor

Citing continuing concerns about hospital capacity and “alarmingly high” death rates, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a 12-day extension of the COVID-19 restrictions initially put in place three weeks ago. 

That means high schools, colleges and universities must continue online learning only. Theaters and casinos must remain closed, and bars and restaurants can’t resume indoor dining, an especially tough blow during the crucial holiday season.

The Michigan State Capitol
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In the absence of a federal COVID-19 relief bill, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked the Legislature to approve a $400 million COVID response package before the end of the year.

The governor’s call for $300 million is on top of an earlier $100 million request.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said there’s no decision yet on whether she will continue the “pause” on indoor restaurant dining and in-person high school and college classes. It’s set to expire on December 8.

rudy giuliani in front of a black and red background
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President Donald Trump’s top election lawyer appeared Wednesday in Lansing to testify before the state House Oversight Committee. The appearance by Rudy Giuliani was a last-ditch effort to try to reverse Trump's fate in Michigan. The state's election results have already been certified, showing President-elect Joe Biden as the winner.

joneigh khaldun at a press conference

State health officials are watching to see how Thanksgiving holiday gatherings may affect COVID-19 case rates.

The state recommended people avoid gatherings with people from other households. But Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said Tuesday it’s not clear yet how many people ignored that advice.

Michigan capitol building
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The Legislature’s post-election “lame duck” session begins Tuesday. The current session will expire at the end of December.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked lawmakers to approve a package of up to $100 million dollars in a relief and stimulus package.

Republican leaders have not tipped their hand.

Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan has settled a lawsuit over the use of private emails by state officials to conduct government business. The deal was announced on Wednesday by Attorney General Dana Nessel and the group Progress Michigan.

android phone on wooden table
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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office is investigating threats against election officials in Wayne County, where two Republicans voted against certifying the results last week before reversing course.

Monica Palmer, the chair of the county's canvassing board, told state canvassers that she was sent graphic text messages threatening her daughter and saying "my entire family should be fearful for our lives."